Originally published in MOREnetworking Vol. 2 No. 5, Jan. 2006
Public libraries are the only institutions in the state that are primarily dependent on property taxes for revenue. Most people don’t know that whenever there is a tax abatement project, no matter the public purpose, the primary loss from the project is to the revenue of public libraries.
Given the structure of tax increment financing (TIFs), Super TIFs, and other forms of tax abatements, libraries can lose current revenue as well as future revenue. Frequently, revenue perceived as future revenue based on one project is, in fact, revenue stolen from an existing source for the library and other property tax receivers.
Libraries need to be more involved and make room for ourselves at the political table. We have the knowledge and experience required to make suggestions about the governance of tax abatement and economic development, especially as they relate to libraries, one of the most valuable public resources in the state.
For example, a current situation that needs to be addressed is the subject of Internet connectivity and the importance of the MOREnet network to public access, economic development in the state and the increasing attempt to make the state government more efficient and user-friendly. I believe we have support in the Legislature on this issue, but there is a long way to go to inform and educate everyone. It is very clear that there is a connection between library technology and the future growth and economic development of the state.
Libraries also need to restate our public purpose periodically at the state and local levels to make sure that legislators, city council members, mayors, and even the Governor understand that stripping revenue from public libraries with these tax abatements undermines an important and universal public service.
There is an opportunity for libraries to pay more attention to the political process, and to be more involved in representing the public purposes of our mission in the political arena. It is our duty to make sure that the interests of our patrons and our communities are understood and protected at the state, county, municipal and district levels.
Crosby Kemper III
Chief Executive, Kansas City Public Library
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